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away from the studio, towards the gallery

chirstinn whyte: johanna billing, arnolfini

Johanna Billing, I'm lost without your rhythm 2009 Johanna Billing, I'm lost without your rhythm 2009
photo by Lavinia German, courtesy the artist and Hollybush Gardens, London
Swedish artist Johanna Billing is clearly no stranger to a striking concept. Wildly differing renditions of 80s pop song You Don’t Love Me Yet are presented as raw footage, accessible at viewing stations in Bristol’s Arnolfini Gallery. Recorded at a rolling program of global events from 2002 onwards, quavering unaccompanied vocals give way to slick retro synth and alt. rock, as viewers stay with each version for as long as individual stamina levels allow.

Billing’s work is featured as part of a collaboration between Arnolfini, London’s Camden Arts Centre and Modern Art Oxford, with the commission I’m Lost Without Your Rhythm and earlier work Magic & Loss exhibiting in Bristol over the last two months. In the first of these pieces, a performance project documented over seven days is reconstructed as a fragmented landscape of tiny increments in a 13 and a half minute video loop. A national flag, passersby, cleaning workers preparing a space, suggest a context shifting in and out of traditional performance states, as a patchwork of visual information accumulates around the event itself. The faces and limbs of non-dance trained Romanian teenagers move through a blue-carpeted studio; the formal sweep of a curving staircase and a slate-grey terrace of wide stone ledges. Disjointed, inconsequential actions give way to head rolls, sideways falls and knee rotations, building and repeating between each space, and wedded to a drumbeat and lyric-dominated soundtrack of escalating complexity. Moments of abstracted detail, a close-in lattice of crossed hands, a mesh of running shadows, appear to exist apart from the work’s formalised choreographic language, as if Billing’s creative engagement with the material is experienced more freely at one remove, breaking through in occasional sideways glances.
Johanna Billing, Magic and Loss 2005 Johanna Billing, Magic and Loss 2005
courtesy the artist and Hollybush Gardens, London

Images from Magic & Loss, a 17 minute loop filmed in Amsterdam in 2005, settle and resonate, creating an ambiguous space for the viewer’s own narrative associations to arise as a group of silent 20-somethings dismantle the minutiae of domestic habitation. The absence of dialogue and use of diegetic sound allows for a focus on texture and fragility, as wine glasses are wrapped in tissue paper, books are boxed and a pliant cargo of bedding is lowered to street level from an overhead hoist. While Magic & Loss contains no recognisably codified dance content, rhythmic structure emerges from low-key internal pacing, with the weaving together of image states appearing much closer to a contemporary notion of direct screen composition. Viewing both works in adjacent spaces raises pertinent questions about visual stimuli and breathing space, external frameworks and internal phrasing, about the amorphous, process-driven nature of screen choreography, and of the impossibility of neatly defining product-based end results. Screendance has undergone a recent shift away from the studio, and towards the gallery. Billing’s work mirrors this shift, reflecting it back from a documentary and conceptually-oriented basis. The seamless circularity of the looped works, allowing viewing engagement to begin and end at any point, makes perfect sense of carefully constructed beginnings when viewed retrospectively as a cycle’s end—much like life.

Johanna Billing, Arnolfini, Bristol Sept 12-Nov 8

RealTime issue #93 Oct-Nov 2009 pg.

© Chirstinn Whyte; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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